Credit: Stuart Pettican

Stuart PetticanGrammy-winning singer and actress Alanis Morissette struggled with eating disorders in her teens and 20s. But then she discovered how good it felt to treat her body right—and this fall she ran a marathon to prove it. Here, Morissette, 35, opens up about her long, winding road to becoming healthy.

Crossing the finish line of my first major road race, the Bizz Johnson Marathon in Susanville, California, was incredibly empowering. It really drove home that my body is an instrument, not an ornament, and that food really can be delicious fuel. I was running to raise awareness for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), a cause that couldnt be closer to my heart.

As a teen, I was both anorexic and bulimic. I was a young woman in the public eye, on the receiving end of a lot of attention, and I was trying to protect myself from men who were using their power in ways I was too young to know how to handle.

Disappointment, sadness, and pain hit me hard, and I tried to numb those feelings through my relationship with food. For four to six months at a time, I would barely eat. I lived on a diet of Melba toast, carrots, and black coffee.

I began recovering at 18, when a sweet friend confronted me. A very wise and experienced therapist really helped, too. And as I started getting into womens issues, suddenly I didnt feel alone in these quandaries about food and my body. Still, eating issues dogged me through my 20s. I wasnt as focused on the number on the scale, but I was a workaholic, pulling 24 hour days, so I ate breads and salty processed foods. Despite my career success, I wasnt my healthiest me. Yet.

Next Page: My 'aha moment' [ pagebreak ]


Stuart PetticanMy “aha moment”
Then, a few years ago, I discovered a book called Eat to Live by nutrition expert Joel Fuhrman, MD. Its become my bible, pushing me to completely reorient my thinking about what to put into my body. Its like Ive become a scientist. I never wouldve been able to complete a marathon without this newfound awareness.

Now I concentrate on eating high-nutrient foods like fruit, nuts, collards, kale, and spinach. Im obsessed with them. I even put spinach in my smoothies!—and arugula, too. For lunch, say, Ill put it in a whole-grain wrap with cucumbers, green peppers, hummus, tomatoes, and some lemon juice, cayenne, and hot sauce. I eat a lot of flaxseed oil to keep my omega-3s up, and I put cruciferous veggies like broccoli in soups—theyre so good for you. I rarely eat dairy. Ill never forget my friend Woody Harrelson telling me I needed to get rid of the dairy in my fridge to clear up my skin. He was right. My skin looks great now.

Dont get me wrong. I still indulge in a glass of wine or chocolate—treats are mandatory. Without deviating from the day-to-day healthy diet once in awhile, it wouldnt be sustainable for me, and thats what I wanted: an approach to eating to last my entire life. So its not about never eating pizza. Its about replacing things. Maybe you make your own pizza with soy cheese and organic tomatoes.

And these changes are not that hard after a few weeks, because your taste buds really do change over time. I dont want the things I used to crave. I love snacking on popcorn with balsamic vinegar, vegan butter, and all kinds of spices.

The new me
Now when I think about weight loss, it definitely conjures up bad memories. But Im older now, and I wont starve myself. Eating the right way has become a sort of spiritual practice for me. And sticking to a healthy diet definitely gave me the strength I needed to do the rigorous training required for a marathon—as well as the excruciating final stretch.

Even though I had a few cramps and it got really tough around mile 20, I pushed through the profound pain in my hip flexors and quadriceps and hit my time goal of 4 hours and 15 minutes. (Listening to “Survivor” by Destinys Child about 150 times helped a lot!)

I hope my effort shows any woman battling an eating disorder or poor body image that shes not alone—support is out there—and inspires her to discover her inner athlete. It doesnt matter what your fitness-skill level is. Its all about finding the activity you enjoy most and sticking with it.

Im really clear about what my life mission is now. Theres no more depression or lethargy, and I feel like Ive returned to the athlete I once was. Growing up, I was a real jock, but that all drifted away once I took the artist route. It was like, “Rock ‘n roll chicks dont play badminton!” Now Im integrating all the parts of me—jock, musician, writer, poet, philosopher—and becoming stronger as a result.